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Pathos Essay The Abolishment of Capital Punishment

Desmond Tutu, a South African activist, once famously said, "To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice." I cannot emphasize enough how much I concur with his statement, and how much I feel against the death sentence. After all, it clearly sends out the wrong message: Why kill people who kill people to show that killing is wrong1? The use of capital punishment, frequently known as the death penalty, has extended to the beginning of recorded history. Used by nearly all societies, it has served as a punishment for the most heinous of crimes; ranging from murder to rape, from treason to espionage and even corruption2(Yes, in China!). Through the years, capital punishment has evolved and there were extensive movements towards a less painful and more humane execution. However, can the use of capital punishment ever be justified? There is no doubt it has served its duty of crime deterrence(partly), but I deeply believe that it is time we walk out of the dark history of mankind and into civilisation. As a Singaporean, I am ashamed to say that capital punishment is still legal in my country. Just last year, four people were sentenced to the gallows; two for murder and the other two for drugtrafficking. Despite pressing calls from the public to abolish the death penalty, the government has repeatedly reiterated its position, saying that it is only reserved for very serious crimes3. Until the time when capital punishment is abolished, we can hardly even call ourselves a first world country. I understand the argument that the death penalty provides closure to the victims families who have suffered and grieved tremendously. But sometimes, I feel that as a society, we have to move away from the eye for an eye revenge mentality if civilisation were to advance4. Dishing out the death penalty to the prisoner does not rectify the problem, and certainly does not bring the victim back to life. In fact, all it does is to place the prisoners families in the same position as the victims; losing a loved one. Not to mention the emotional and mental trauma of going through the entire appealing process which may take up to several years, the impact on the prisoners families are as unbearable as it could be. Why double the suffering when we don't have to? Only a cold and heartless human can say that all these is worth it as the prisoner deserves it. Opposing the death penalty does not indicate a lack of sympathy for the victims, but rather, indicates a lack of sympathy for human life. Nobody is perfect. Not you, not me, and certainly not the justice system we have in place. And that brings me to my next point, wrongful execution. More often than not, evidences are used in court hearings to substantiate and prosecute those who are guilty. However, can there be without a doubt that the convicted is guilty as charged? After all, it was claimed that there have been as many as 39 executions that have been carried out in the face of compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt in the US from 1992 through 20045. There were many instances where conviction to life imprisonment were overturned, and prisoners were released and compensated. However, you cant do that to a corpse. It is extremely unacceptable and appalling to know that innocent men and women were subjected to such irreversible barbaric acts when they were in fact, guilt-free. One such
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tragedy was that of Jesse Joseph Tafero. Jesse was framed by his friend who committed the murder and despite maintaining his innocence throughout the entire trial, he was electrocuted in 1990. The case was re-opened after his death and a thorough investigation concluded that he was innocent. To exacerbate the matter, Jesse suffered a horrific and gruesome death due to a malfunction in the electric chair. There is absolutely nothing he could do, all because the justice system is not infallible and he is just one of its unfortunate victims.. If anybody could readily accept this as a risk for the continuance use of capital punishment, then perhaps his innate sadistic nature has taken a full grip on him. The next notion I would like to challenge is the simple fact that Life is sacred. All humans err, and everybody should be given a second chance. Nobody has the right to take another mans life away. Even in The New Testament, it was written that He also said that we are all sinners and do not have the right to pass judgment on one another (Matthew 7:1-5). 6 Life is precious and is a gift from God. A person may have sinned and committed a serious crime, but does that mean that he has to pay it with his life? Who has the right to pass a judgement that states that ones life is not worth living anymore? What about Thou shall not kill? While it is true that the prisoner should be punished for his crimes, it should not stoop so low as to the capital punishment. In fact, life imprisonment without parole would serve as the ultimate punishment for the most severe of crimes. Since prisoners who are given this sentence will never be released, the safety of the society can still be maintained without the use of the capital punishment. During his lifelong prison term, the prisoner can rectify his mistakes by making up to society and learn to be a better man. Sympathy for prisoners extend a long way. In Singapore for example, a Yellow Ribbon Project 7was launched in 2004 to help ex-inmates reintegrate into society. In a country where the capital punishment is still practised, it is evident that sympathy for offenders still exists. Doesnt it beg the question as to why such sympathy cannot be extended to the area of capital punishment? If the Government believes that prisoners can be changed, why cant that logic be applied to prisoners facing the gallows as well? Most of the prisoners commit their crimes in the moment of folly and are done on the heat of passion when he is blinded by irrationality. As humans, we have all fallen prey to such impulses, some with greater, and others with lighter consequences. Perhaps, what society needs to do is to channel some hatred into sympathy for the prisoners, after all, arent we all not the same? Are we to take the blood of monsters upon our own hands and emerge unscathed by sin? I dont think so. There is strong evidence to show that capital punishment may not necessarily be a good deterrent as well. In 1988, a survey was conducted for the UN to determine the relation between homicide rates and capital punishment. It concluded that ...research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis.8 Hence, what is the use of capital punishment if it does not entirely serves its main duty of deterrence? Scientifically, it is impossible to test the deterrent effect as to do so would require knowing how many murders would have been committed in that particular state during that particular time period when the laws were different. But if we look at it from another perspective, a lack of an obvious
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relationship between homicide rates and the use of the death penalty is evident that capital punishment may not have served its duty as much, considering that capital punishment has already existed throughout the history of mankind. Nobody should in fact, be arguing based on that stance. Since capital punishment does not deter people from committing crime, then isnt it not just vengeance? Death offers the offender an easy escape from their crimes, instead of having to face the consequences of their actions in prison. Having to live with that guilt for the rest of your life will definitely be more painful than death itself. These people cant just be removed from society, they have to pay for their immoral acts with a lesson of mortality and that is why, life imprisonment without parole would be the most suitable punishment for offenders. 17 out of 50 states in United States of America currently do not practise capital punishment9. Why cant all the states follow suit as well? Why is it that the homicide rates are consistently higher in states with the death penalty than those without10? We have to learn, move forward and abolish cruel and barbaric official homicides. After all, the only thing that our children can take away from capital punishment is that killing is a viable solution to societys problems.

Teo Wei En (10114977) (1,485 words)